On the game's first possession, Bellevue's Carly Santoro stole the ball from Columbian, took off down the floor running at ludicrous speed and finished on the other end with a layup.
It appeared as if the teams might be heading for a repeat of their Jan. 11 game when Bellevue beat the Tornadoes at home by 52, and Santoro set a school record with 43 points.
However, Columbian wasn't going to repeat that performance on its home floor. The Tornadoes kept the game close through one quarter, but Bellevue began to pull away for a 59-23 victory.
Despite what the scoreboard showed, Tornado coach Katie Fazekas said she was pleased with how her team played, especially on the defensive end.
"One of our goals was to hold them under 60, which sounds strange, but we held them to 59. That's 14 fewer than we gave up at Bellevue. I thought that was good," she said. "We had some problems with turnovers tonight, but I was proud of their effort, they played hard.
"Defensively, I always tell them 'defense is heart' and they played with a lot of heart tonight. They were tenacious."
Bellevue 59, Columbian 23
Bellevue (12-2): Whitney Schalk 0-0-0; Hannah Lilly 1-1-3; Jake Turner 0-2-2; Carly Santoro 9-2-23; Hilary Brown 0-0-0; Shelby Stamm 1-0-2; Janelle Watson 3-2-8; Makala Daniel 1-5-7; Miranda Gibbs 6-0-14. Totals: 21-12-59
Columbian (6-10): Sidney Baker 1-0-2; Marissa Ward 1-0-2; Megan Moore 1-3-5; Jocelyn Cole 2-0-6; Valesha Province 1-2-4; Laura Heminger 0-0-0; Mackenzie Zimmerman 0-0-0; Payge Smith 2-0-4. Totals: 8-5-23.
Bellevue12121817 - 59
Columbian7268 - 23
Field goals: Bellevue 21-49; Columbian 8-26
3-point goals: Bellevue 5-16 (Santoro 3, Gibbs 2); Columbian 2-9 (Cole 2)
Foul shots: Bellevue 12-19; Columbian 5-14
Rebounds: Bellevue 34 (Daniel 12); Columbian 21 (Moore 5, Province 5)
Turnovers: Bellevue 17; Columbian 30
But Bellevue's defense appeared to be even more tenacious, as expected from Division II's 11th ranked team. The Redmen (12-2) forced more turnovers (30) than shots they allowed (26).
Also paving the way for the Redmen's win was a dominating rebounding edge (34-21), but when asked what the difference was that allowed his team to pull away heading into halftime, coach Ryan Orshoski had on thing to say: "Miranda Gibbs."
"She came out and shot it outstandingly well," Orshonski said. "That's a kid who had just kept her head up all year. We felt strongly that she could really help us against a team that's going to (play a zone defense), and tonight they zoned us, and she got her money's worth, that's for sure."
A late 3-pointer from Jocelyn Cole got Columbian within 12-7 after one quarter, but Gibbs came off the bench to score nine of her 14 points in the second.
"My mindset was to shoot if I'm open," Gibbs said. "That's what I've always done. Sometimes I don't land them, but tonight I was hot so it worked out.
"Before the game I was shooting and I knew it was going to be a good day for shooting, so I just went with it."
Gibbs' performance provided Bellevue with a needed offensive boost as Orshonski pulled Santoro and fellow starter Whitney Schalk for what he said was a message he needed to send to his team.
"Physically, we're as talented and as physically gifted as we've been, but we sometimes struggle mentally," he said. "This week was a bear in terms of understanding the game plan, utilizing our basketball IQ, taking care of the ball and taking good shots. We didn't see that early in the first quarter, and we wanted to reward the kids that were going to do what the coaches wanted."
Between Gibbs' offense, Makala Daniel's rebounding (a game-high 12) and a stingy defensive effort, the Redmen increased their lead to 24-9 by halftime.
Fazekas said offensive problems have plagued her team throughout the season.
"That's been a problem for us all year," she said. "Offensively we had a hard time getting shots up; we had a hard time getting into the offense. Turnover central."
"All week our emphasis had been on our defensive stance. Our butt down, our back straight, our hands up and creating havoc in our half court defense," Orshoski said. "We really, I thought, kept them off balance with our ball pressure and our wing denial."
Santoro got back on the floor in the third quarter and went on a personal 10-0 run that pushed Bellevue's lead to 38-13. Her 23 points led everyone.
Cole had a pair of 3-pointers to lead Columbian (6-10) with six points.
Even though the score didn't reflect it, Fazekas said it was a positive turnaround in terms of effort and pride for her team, compared to a 24 point loss Tuesday to Marion Harding.
"We talked about pride and we talked about coming out and representing the program and trying to put a good face out for Tiffin Columbian, and I think they really bought into that tonight," she said.